3 Secrets from Harry Potter World for Student Ministry

Distraction is a major problem but not at Universal Studios Harry Potter World.

In fact, Universal Studios uses these 3 powerful secrets to grab your attention and hold it. What are these secrets and how can we harness them to impact students’ lives!? Here’s what I discovered this week…

Secret #1. -Everything Builds the Story

From the second I entered the park it was clear that everything was driving me to the new attraction. Actually, even before I arrived the expectations were built on TV and on the internet. I could feel the excitement in the crowds around me.

How can we create anticipation for our events or our teaching? Great promo builds expectations. We can build  anticipation about every aspect. At one event I transported every student in our building’s elevator to the surface of the planet. The elevator pointed toward the Gospel message that was going to presented… “the Search for God.”

One student pastor kept the building dark and had students come to the sanctuary with flashlights. Along the way Prophets stood along the walls sharing scripture. The whole evening played with the theme of light and darkness presenting Christ as the light!

Let your imagination go wild. How can your teaching excite students to learn?

Secret #2. -Engage all of the Senses.

As we walked through Hogwarts castle (pretty impressive all by itself) the staff was dressed in character. The paintings on the walls spoke to us, building the story we were about to experience. Parts of the waiting line were interactive, drawing us into the story that they were building. Even if we started looking around it the surroundings kept drawing us back into the story!

When we entered the 4 Dimensional ride, they used movement, video walls, moist spray, wind, light, sound, and objects popping out to mess with our sense of reality. They were able to induce a sense of fear by dominating all of our senses.

Universal knows that audiences are bored with a talking head. Students tune out immediately. They know that if they can take over your senses you can’t look away.

God did this by parting the Red Sea, sending plagues on Egypt, and sending a Pillar of flame each night. The daily sacrifices demonstrated the horrors of sin and the power of God’s forgiveness. The prophets used strange antics to help God’s people visualize God’s messages. Jesus stunned the crowds by including the surroundings in his teaching, producing huge quantities of food, and healing all in need. Jesus didn’t just tell his disciples about how to minister he involved them in his ministry!

There are hundreds of ways to make our teaching interactive by using sound, lighting, video, movement, drama, dialogue, smart phones, location, smell, wind, and touch.

I was at an Easter presentation where the actors were peppered through the audience yelling “crucify him!”  At another presentation a powerful perfume was released at the washing of Jesus’ feet. The more senses you can include and the more people experience them the greater impact you can have.

Secret #3 -Make us Part of the Story

All over Universal they have moved from telling the audiences a story to making them part of the story. Even the tour of the studios now involves the passengers on the bus in a Fast and Furious car chase. The buses move and shake in a simulated experience.

One way that some student ministry leaders do this is narrate a story like the Good Samaritan and include a few students from the audience. It adds humor but sometimes the rest of the crowd miss the point.

How can we include students in the teaching, let them feel the tension, experience the conflict, maybe even have to decide? Can we design an escape room that involves some learning? Can we have students participate in a simulation game where they have to wrestle with issues like world hunger?

I once had students walk through woods in the dark with only a string to guide them. At the end they sat on bleachers and shared about 3 questions.
A. How did you feel as you went through the woods?
B. In what ways was this like our walk of faith?
C. How is this not like the Christian life?

The dialogue that followed was intense. I didn’t have to call on any one for responses. They all wanted to contribute!

Please Don’t Just Talk

The culture has changed. Story is still absolutely important but it needs to involve students. Listening is low on students’ top ways to learn. They need to be engaged in interactive learning. The more of their senses are involved the more they will listen and learn. They can’t be passive. They must be active in the learning experience.

Universal goes through incredible efforts to do this just to turn a profit. We have a much more important motivation and much more important message. Even if we have a limited budget, It is worth taking the extra time to build anticipation about our teaching, use the setting to build on that interest and deliver a powerful learning experience that impacts all of the senses!

Share this:

Ron Powell


Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email ron.powell@vanguardcollege.com